With honorable exceptions, audio is often the "poor little brother" in relation to video and almost the same could be true of home theater systems. Big mistake. Spending too much money on a 4K screen and not investing enough in sound is already limiting your viewing experience in half.
Good home theater fans have it clear and know the real wonders of home theater systems, starting with soundproof dedicated rooms, ergonomic seats, quality cables and of course, hardware calibrated TVs, projectors, amplifiers, A/V receivers and high-quality speakers. This is outside the scope of this article but if you’re interested there is a wealth of information on the Internet.
Getting that kind of dedicated rooms requires space, time and especially money. Like most, we lack one of the three (or all XD), thus we have to settle for less and today we will talk about a basic approach to an essential question: placing the speakers properly to improve the sound in home theater equipment.
2.0 / 2.1 Systems
As you know, basic and minimal configuration passes through an stereo audio system that provides two sound channels, one for the left speaker and one for the right. In surround sound configurations it is known as 2.0. Add a subwoofer for a low-frequency effects channel and you have a 2.1 system that would be placed as it follows:
The minimum distance between the left and right speakers should be about two meters and with an approximate height to the listener’s head or slightly greater. In this configuration it is convenient to use the technique as a "toe-in" or tilt the speaker about 20 degrees towards the listener. The subwoofer should not be placed in a corner or hidden in a cupboard, but it does not require special angle or distance.
This type of system is the most widespread on a home theaters and it is considered the minimum for a proper surround sound setup. Add to this a center speaker and two rear ones, placed left and right. The role of the center speaker is mainly playing the dialogues. It must be placed in the center of the screen above or below it, in no left or right angle, with the tilting optional and slightly up or down, depending on the listener’s position. The additional rear speakers are responsible for extra sound effects or environmental sounds and must be located at a height slightly higher than the listener and between 90-110 degrees to it, as pictured:
It adds two additional satellites to increase in two-channel the surround sound to the previous system, with the aim of adding greater auditory realism to home theater systems. They should be placed behind the listener with the angle indicated in the image (135 to 150 degrees) and a height slightly higher than the head.
They fall outside of what we would consider consumption use (price and lack of content), but if you want the best system currently offered by the industry, here’s the most complete surround sound set for home theater systems. Add to the above two channels by using two satellites, which are to be placed in front of the listener as pictured:
Manufacturers are betting on increasing the number of subwoofers to 2, in 7.2 and 9.2 settings. There are also 11.1 and 11.2 systems with two more satellites over what we have mentioned above. All this will be nothing with Dolby Atmos, a format for the future that can process a whopping 128 channels and 64 different speakers.
- The size of your living room will not always allow placing the speakers in their ideal situation, but you can try, asyou will see that the difference is remarkable.
- If your budget is limited, it is always better to stay with a more modest sound system but with higher quality speakers. The minimum for a Home Cinema should be 5.1.
- An A/V receiver is the perfect complement to our sound system. It must support the audio system that you will incorporate and must have enough power to feed them. It must also come with a sufficient number of inputs/outputs and compatible formats, because it will be the center of our whole system. You can find "decent" models from $200.
- Many of them, such like Yamaha with YPAO, include automatic calibrators, very useful if your room does not let you place the speakers in their ideal situation.
- The wiring is also important and some prices will surprise you (they’re expensive). But you can start with those provided in the same speakers’ equipment.
- Good quality speakers are necessary to enjoy a true home theater experience. They’ll last you half a life, and they can stretch your budget all you can on your investment, compared to other components.